Antrim and Newtownabbey Council setting up a group to ‘reach out’ to refugees

Antrim and Newtownabbey councillors have agreed to the re-establishment of a working group to reach out to refugees.

Friday, 17th September 2021, 6:55 pm

The recommendation was approved at a meeting of the council’s Community Planning Committee on Monday evening.

Speaking after the meeting, Threemilewater DUP Councillor Mark Cooper said that it is important to “get on the ball as early as possible” in preparation for any potential request for the borough to accommodate refugee families fleeing Afghanistan.

However, he stressed that there is “absolutely no word” of this at present.

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Cllr Cooper went on to say that he has been asked by residents how they can help those fleeing Afghanistan.

At Monday evening’s meeting, he said: “Our strength is our diversity. We are a very multi-cultural society. That is something we should never be scared of.”

Northern Ireland has already been working to welcome refugees from Syria as part of the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme run by the UK Home Office.

A working group had been established in the borough previously to support Syrian families living in Antrim with integration and access to services, such as Arabic awareness events, facilitation of English courses and a meeting place.

Cllr Cooper’s proposal was seconded by Glengormley Alliance Alderman Julian McGrath who stressed that this support should not be restricted to just one group of refugees.

The Northern Ireland Executive has agreed to help vulnerable people fleeing Afghanistan and has approved measures to resettle refugees.

Work is ongoing to determine the final number of citizens to be resettled in the province with “urgent preparations” being made to support the arrival of Afghan citizens “as soon as possible”.

First Minister Paul Girvan said: “Work has been ongoing for some time to identify the size and scale of need and to see what facilities and resources are required. This is an effort that goes beyond the Executive and involves the UK Government as well as a range of statutory and voluntary organisations in Northern Ireland.

“I have said before that Northern Ireland has not been found wanting when it comes to those seeking refuge or fleeing persecution. In the wake of the Syrian conflict, Northern Ireland took in more than 1,800 people – a higher proportional share than anywhere else in the UK.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill commented: “We have asked our officials to work urgently with all relevant agencies to expedite resettlement here by putting in place the necessary measures to ensure any Afghan refugees have appropriate access to vital services such as housing, healthcare, benefits, education and employment opportunities.

“We have also asked them to look at how we can best support those vulnerable Afghans who are not part of formal resettlement schemes but arrive here seeking asylum.”

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter

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